AMC fans may have been in for a tad bit of a shock last night when they tuned into The Walking Dead. I’m not berating such critical darlings like Mad Men and Breaking Bad (and have only seen about three episodes between the two) but I’m pretty sure a horse was never mutilated and devoured in the middle of a city street in either program. Although the first shock might have been where some viewers decided to tune out (scaredy-cats), in which our hero, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), while looking for gas is forced to shoot a charging nine year old turned zombie (here called walkers, understandably) in the head. It’s shocking, violent, and was basically the show telling you, “If you didn’t like that, then get ready, because there’s a whole lot more where that came from.”
As a faithful, if not fairly new, reader to The Walking Dead comics by Robert Kirkman I was expecting the pilot to cover more ground than it did, to meet a few more characters than were shown. We see Rick waking up, finding a father-son zombie killing team, and eventually make his way to Atlanta, which is supposedly a military outpost full of food, water and safety. But I came around to the slightly slow pacing and low key feel of it all. These long pauses of silence (for there are numerous, actually I can barely remember music playing except the very end) perfectly lead into the sudden and dramatic acts of zombie mutilation. Be it by a simple and clean headshot or all out attack with a baseball bat.
Kirkman’s comics constantly made the idea of zombies chasing you scary and intense, and I think the TV series has captured that state of constant paranoia. To be honest, when Rick was winding his way through a group of wrecked cars within two minutes of the show’s premiere, I was convinced something would pop out and attack him (that long stretch of silence again helping immensely, it just sets off something in your mind that makes you convinced a loud noise is about to happen). Director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist) and Gale Anne Hurd (producer of The Terminator and Aliens) manged to take that aspect of a simple, quiet fear that something is about to happen and it will NOT be good for our heroes, which the comic beautifully exemplified, and put it on our TV screens.
Eventually we get a glimpse of Rick’s lost family: Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Carl (Chandler Riggs). They’ve somehow found a rag-tag group of survivors and are stationed just outside of Atlanta. This is where the meat and potatoes of the drama and subplots will unfold, hinted at in the pilot by showing Lori cuddling up to Rick’s best friend, Shane (Jon Bernthal). Rick eventually uses his radio trying to reach anyone nearby relaying his plan to go to Atlanta, and the group hears him. Some mention sinisterly how they need to warn people away from the city. Unfortunately, Rick can’t hear anything they say to get the message of warning. Not good.
Making his way through the car riddled and abandoned streets of Atlanta, he eventually turns a corner to find an entire city block chock full of the walkers. His horse doesn’t make it, but Rick manages to climb into a tank and barricade himself in. Despite my knowledge of everything that happens in the comics (and it seems like the creators are going to be pretty faithful to character arcs and subplots) the slight cliffhanger ending still managed to make me nervous. “Hey asshole. Yeah, you in the tank” a voice emanates from a CB radio near Rick, the camera then zooming out over his temporary protection to show crowds, and I mean crowds, of the walkers banging down on the tank. Leaving Rick to wonder who exactly is talking to him, and us to figure out how he could possibly get out of that scrape. It’s a great way to bait people who were on the fence along to the next episode.
I hope, I really really hope, that The Walking Dead manages to find a loyal viewership. The fact that it managed to thoroughly entertain my mom, whom I honestly don’t know has ever even watched a single zombie movie, definitely attests to the high quality and overall polish the show exudes. Yeah it has the fanboys, and maybe a few who will watch anything AMC puts out, but the violence and adult themes will definitely turn some off. On the other hand, a show like True Blood on HBO manages to keep a huge viewing audience every season and that show makes Dead look like Sesame Street. We’ll just have to rest easy for now, knowing that AMC has ordered six episodes of the show to start off.
So what did you think of the premiere of The Walking Dead? If you were a fan of the comics, did you feel it honored them well?